FIFA Ensure World Cup Play-offs System Favours the Big Fish

Sepp Blatter, FIFA

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What happens when Sepp Blatter and his cronies see millions of dollars and plenty of prestige in danger of disappearing?  They change the system.

That’s the conclusion drawn by many after FIFA last night announced they were altering their planned World Cup 2010 qualification play-offs system to seed teams based on their FIFA world rankings, a decision which clearly favours the traditionally strong nations.

The One Team in Ireland blog responds by calling it U-Turn by FIFA to benefit the more successful teams, many of whom have surprisingly fallen into the likelihood of having to go through the play-offs system.

By using the FIFA rankings to seed the play-offs into two pots of four teams, it’s much less likely that (say) France would have to play Germany and much more likely they’d play (say) Ireland.

From FIFA’s report on their Executive Committee deliberations, it’s not clear that FIFA actually changed any procedures — people had just presumed they were not seeding the play-offs as they had never stated they were going to until last night.

FIFA will argue that the World Cup final group stage is seeded in part based on FIFA ranking, thus making this seeding consistent with that.

But either way, by only announcing this now, the motivation for the ruling is open to the obvious interpretation taken by many that FIFA is fixing it for the big fish.  To avoid this in future, FIFA ought to state the full procedures and rules for all parts of World Cup qualification before the qualification tournament begins. To announce such a key deliberation ruling at this stage shows very little concern for even the image of FIFA or the tournament, as it’s so easily taken as being done to benefit the bigger teams.

So we have another strike against Sepp Blatter and his complete disregard for even bothering to pretend to care about transparency and fairness.

Update: A reader has pointed out the 2006 World Cup play-offs were similarly seeded — whilst this supports FIFA’s precedent, it makes it even more bizarre that FIFA didn’t announce they were following that precedent again in the first place. Again, why the need for such a lack of transparency?

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